Seed is the most important input into any crop or pasture that is sown. Can a farmer accurately assess seed quality just by looking at it? Seed may appear clean and healthy but could contain weed seeds and have low germination.
Most seed of the same species looks identical, so a buyer cannot be sure of the variety they are purchasing - unless it is certified or quality assured seed.
The quality of the seed must be assessed carefully to ensure that the buyer is getting value for money, and not introducing any weeds with the seed.
To minimise the risk associated with buying seed, the Australian Seed Federation (ASF) has produced a Smart from the Start checklist that suggests some questions to ask a seed supplier such as how to choose and compare varieties, assess purity and germination and ensure they are not in breach of Plant Breeders Rights.
Choosing a variety Reputable consultants and advisers can provide advice on species most suitable to the farm's requirements. Having selected the species, wanted for a particular situation, buyers are faced with a bewildering array of choices.
Fortunately, several tools are available to assist with this choice.
For example, the ASF releases a Pasture Seed Products Database.
The database lists all commercially available pasture seed products by species and the intellectual property, marketing and varietal status of the various seeds nominated by their Australian marketer.
One of the major benefits of the database is that it identifies which pasture products are varieties and which are not varieties (branded seed products).
Implicit in the definition of variety is a substantiated capacity to consistently deliver the described genetic characteristics of the pasture seed product.
To qualify as a variety, internationally agreed scientific procedures must be followed to demonstrate that the new variety has the genetic stability and uniformity to deliver the benefits claimed and can do so over successive generations. Anybody can brand a bag of seed and make a claim about its performance but to have confidence in those claims consumers need to know it is a variety.
Comparing varieties Productive and sustainable pastures are a key to improved profitability. But pasture resowing is an expensive exercise. Selecting the variety best suited to the situation helps to make resowing a profitable investment.
Comparing the performance of varieties at the same location can help to make that tricky decision of "which variety will provide the best bang for the buck, if all my other costs are the same?''.
Forage Value Index
The Forage Value Index (FVI) is a rating system that helps Australian dairy producers and their advisers to make more informed decisions when selecting perennial ryegrass cultivars.
The Forage Value Index has been a collaborative effort between Dairy Australia, Agriculture Victoria, Australian Seed Federation, Meat and Livestock Australia through the MLA Donor Company and DairyNZ.
It provides an accurate, reliable and independent assessment of the potential economic value of perennial ryegrass cultivars in different dairy regions of south-east Australia.
The selection of better performing cultivars will help to increase pasture productivity at key times of the year and ultimately, farm profitability. The FVI is based on independently-calculated Performance Values (PV) for seasonal dry matter production and Economic Values (EV).
PVs are determined by trial data from the Pasture Variety Trials Network, supplemented by data supplied by plant breeding companies that meet eligibility criteria.
The Pasture Variety Trial Network (PVTN) is the culmination of more than 10 years' work by Meat & Livestock Australia (MLA) forming a partnership with all major pasture seed companies, developing research protocols, and undertaking trials to deliver meaningful data to producers to help with their pasture variety decisions.
PVTN is designed to provide this information using an evidence-based approach and industry agreed protocols for trial design, establishment and maintenance.
With the first site sown in 2011, there are now more than 100 trials currently running or completed. These trials are conducted in every state at more than 30 sites and encompasses 12 species with 10 seed companies providing entries.
EVs are determined by economic analysis of 'case study' farms in four different dairying regions in south-east Australia.
Similar to the PVTN, the FVI for each cultivar is expressed using a colour coding system.
Cultivars are ranked according to their FVI and user-nominated attributes (e.g. seasonal production, ploidy, heading date, and endophyte).
Only cultivars listed in the ASF Pasture Seed Database and confirmed as a variety by the Australian Seed Federation are used in the FVI.
However, choosing a variety is only part of the process.
Farmers would also benefit from knowing that the seed they are purchasing will germinate satisfactorily and not introduce weeds.
Use the ASF Smart from the Start checklist as a guide (see next page).
What makes good quality seed? Varietal purity. Is the seed a true variety and the variety you want? After carefully deciding what to grow, be certain that the seed being bought is that variety.
Buy Certified Seed, or seed produced under a reputable quality assurance scheme, to ensure varietal purity.
For details on certification refer Australian Seed Authority www.aseeds.net.au.
Physical purity. Does it contain any undesirable weed seeds? Seed may have been produced in another district or State.
It may also contain weeds not present on the farm. Weeds prohibited in one State may not be prohibited in another.
Weed details are usually not displayed on the label, but weed seeds found in the sample are listed in the Statement of Seed Analysis.
A Statement of Seed Analysis is often referred to as a Purity and Germination or P and G statement.
Reputable seed suppliers will give purchasers a copy of the Statement of Seed Analysis if requested.
But, seed analysis statements are only as reliable as the sample provided.
Samples of certified seed, and seed from reputable quality assurance programs, are representative of the seed lot on sale.
Be certain that the seed lot, or seed line number, quoted on the statement matches the one on the bag or label.
Germination. Will this seed establish a healthy crop? The germination percentage is the percentage of seeds that germinates to produce normal seedlings. Determining normal seedlings requires skill and a controlled environment.
A laboratory test is essential. Depending upon the storage conditions, the germination test results should remain valid for up to 12 months from the date of testing.
Disease. Does the seed carry any disease? Seed of some species, particularly pulses, may carry diseases into the resulting crop. Results of disease tests may also be found on the Statement of Seed Analysis.
Seed testing services Sowing farm-saved seed without knowing its quality, especially germination percentage, can be highly risky particularly for some crop types such as pulses and canola.
Cereals can also quickly deteriorate in germination if harvested and stored at moisture levels above 13 per cent.
Relative to the costs of establishing a crop it makes good sense to test saved seed before sowing.
Several seed-testing laboratories provide a comprehensive range of seed analytical services to farmer and seed industry clients including testing for: germination percentage, physical purity percentage, moisture percentage, and weed seed identification.
Reputable testing laboratories that are members of the Australian Seed Federation (ASF) include: Food Assurance www.dtsfoodassurance.com.au. Seed Services Australia www.ruralsolutions.sa.gov.au/seeds. AgEtal www.agetal.com.au.
The Australian Seed Authority (ASA) has authorised the first two of these organisations to undertake seed certification activities in Australia.
These organisations can certify seed under both the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development Seed Schemes and the Australian Seed Certification Scheme.
National Code of Practice The National Code of Practice for Labelling and Marketing of Seed for Sowing aims to ensure buyers are provided with consistent and accurate information so they can make informed decisions about the suitability of seed for sowing.
This code applies throughout Australia.
The code was developed by the seed industry and sets out the: information required on the label, and acceptable conduct for marketing and dealing with performance claims about a variety.
All members of the Australian Seed Federation (ASF) abide by the Code of Practice.
At a minimum, this will ensure that the label contains essential information about the species, chemical/additive/biological treatments and the availability of statement of seed analysis.
In addition, the code sets out acceptable conduct for marketing and dealing with performance claims about a variety.
A list of ASF members and a copy of the code can be found at www.asf.asn.au.
Plant Breeder's Rights Plant Breeder's Rights are exclusive commercial rights to a registered variety.
The rights are a form of intellectual property, like patents and copyright, and are administered under the Plant Breeder's Rights Act 1994 (the Act) Plant Breeder's Rights are one means of conferring seed variety status.
PBR rights allow the developers of new varieties to get a return from their investment, which they often reinvest in developing newer, improved varieties that better suit a farmer's needs.
Without PBR there would be no new varieties for farmers to use.
In relation to propagating material of the registered variety, successful applicants have exclusive rights to: Produce or reproduce the material. Condition the material for the purpose of propagation (conditioning includes cleaning, coating, sorting, packaging and grading). Offer the material for sale. Sell the material. Import the material. Export the material. Stock the material for any of the purposes described in the above points.
If someone buys PBR-protected seed, there are no restrictions on the use of that particular batch of seed on the farm except the farmer is not permitted to produce propagating seed to re-sell unless they are licenced to do so.
Generally, the use of plant material produced by that seed is also free provided that it is not sold or conditioned as propagating material or contains propagating material exported to countries where PBR protection is not available.
This means producers cannot sell/trade/barter/gift seed between themselves.
If in doubt, approach the PBR grantee and determine whether their authorisation is required. Varieties covered by PBR and the PBR grantee are available on the IP Australia website.
The PBR grantee may initiate legal action seeking damages or an account of profits. The PBR Act provides for penalties for intentional infringement of a PBR attracts a penalty of $85,000 for individuals. The penalty for corporations is up to five times greater. There are penalties for other unlawful acts in relation to the legislation.
Put another way, companies could now be 'risking the farm' with a 'catch me if you can' attitude to PBR.D